Looking back, you may remember how hard it was to decide to engage in therapy. It’s scary trusting a stranger with your stuff, never mind admitting that you have stuff! Well, ending therapy (also known as graduating from or terminating therapy) can be similarly challenging. Let’s see how you can evaluate whether you are ready to graduate, ending options, and common fears about termination.
Are you ready to graduate?
Should you be in the position to continue therapy as long as you like (e.g. you are not restricted by financial concerns), it is helpful to review your progress with your therapist. This opportunity can help you to evaluate whether you met your therapeutic goals, monitor your symptom reduction, and review the skills you acquired along the way.
What end would suit you best?
Psychologists approach endings differently, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t negotiate a way that would make the most sense to you. For example, you could set a date for the last session and continue with therapy leading up to the final session or you could negotiate to stagger your session frequency so that you can “wean” from therapy (and learn that you can indeed cope!). In most cases, ending therapy is more like a “pause” than a “break-up” or a “divorce.” You may find that there are other layers to the onion that you would like to work on later in life. Often changes in life seasons can bring about a fresh desire to engage in therapeutic work. Some clients enjoy returning to a previous therapist while others decide to make a fresh start with a new psychologist.
Common fears about termination
It is not unusual to worry that you won’t be able to cope, or that the problems will return without therapy. Remember that an ending is both a celebration (wow – look how far you have come!) and a loss for both the client and psychologist (aw, I will miss them!). Since psychotherapy relies so heavily on the therapeutic relationship, you may feel this loss quite acutely. For this reason it is advisable that you provide space in your therapy sessions to process these thoughts and feelings. This process is also helpful for negotiating contact and continuing therapy in the future.
Wondering about your readiness to end therapy is helpful. It enables you to be focused and use your therapy hour wisely. As a psychologist, my goal is to work myself out of a job! To this end, I hope to see you increasingly empowered to navigate the challenges that life throws at you. I celebrate every victory with you – also when you are ready to fly solo!